December 23, 2016

When science closes the door too fast

For a quarter century, the Progressive Review has been one of the few non-scientific American publications to take this issue seriously - not because of assurance that the theory would work out, but because the available facts and the rampant criticisms didn't add up.

Steven B. Krivit &  Michael J. Ravnitzky , Scientific American - A surprising opportunity to explore something new in chemistry and physics has emerged. In March 1989, electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, at the University of Utah, announced that they had "established a sustained nuclear fusion reaction" at room temperature. By nearly all accounts, the event was a fiasco. The fundamental reason was that the products of their experiments looked nothing like deuterium-deuterium (D+D) fusion. 

In the following weeks, Caltech chemist Nathan Lewis sharply criticized Fleischmann and Pons in a symposium, a press release, a one-man press conference at the American Physical Society meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, and during his oral presentation at the APS meeting. Despite Lewis' prominence in the media spotlight, he never published a peer-reviewed critique of the peer-reviewed Fleischmann-Pons papers, and for good reason. Lewis' critique of the Fleischmann-Pons experiment was based on wrong guesses and assumptions.

Richard Petrasso, a physicist at MIT, took Fleischmann and Pons to task for their claimed gamma-ray peak. Petrasso and the MIT team, after accusing Fleischmann and Pons of fraud in the Boston Herald, later published a sound and well-deserved peer-reviewed critique of what had become multiple versions of the claimed peak.

From this dubious beginning, to the surprise of many people, a new field of nuclear research has emerged: It offers unexplored opportunities for the scientific community. Data show that changes to atomic nuclei, including observed shifts in the abundance of isotopes, can occur without high-energy accelerators or nuclear reactors. For a century, this has been considered impossible. In hindsight, glimpses of the new phenomena were visible 27 years ago.


No comments: